I have been a Nintendo fan since the early days of the black-and-white Gameboy. I played Pokemon on my friend’s Gameboy and we played a lot of games together on subsequent systems – the Gameboy Colour, the Advanced, later moving onto my brother’s DS which we still own. Along the way I wanted to own a Wii or a Gamecube badly, but never had the money for it. As I’ve written before, here on NAG Online, I recently acquired a Wii U in a fire sale by Nintendo South Africa across several retailers for a cool thousand bucks. But other than ZombiU, it hasn’t seen a lot of action.
Nintendo’s baby is in trouble, dear readers. And not in the sense of it not earning the company any money, but more because the market it was trying to address is now being challenged by two companies who will likely have far more success than Nintendo ever will.
July 31st saw the release of Nvidia’s Project Shield, an Android-based, Tegra 4-powered handheld gaming console that not only plays those wonderful indie games bought from the Google Play store, but also allows for game streaming from your PC to the console over local Wi-Fi or over 3G/LTE (still under development, but now possible). Shield has good battery life, works on its own away from home and costs US $299.
It does require that you buy a Geforce GTX600-series card for the streaming capability, as Nvidia needs to decode and recode your gameplay to allow streaming to work. At a minimum, you have to spend another R1600 for a GTX650 Ti to make the feature work, as well as install the latest version of Geforce experience. Game streaming is also still in beta mode, but Nvidia’s working on it every day.
Nintendo’s Wii U touch controller has poor battery life, cannot work away from the mothership and won’t play games on its own. Minus points for Nintendo.
Then there’s Sony’s Playstation Vita. The Vita has been designed for use as a second screen for the Playstation 4 and does this very well, even streaming the games over local Wi-Fi with little latency or audio issues, allowing you to play almost every single PS4 title from the comfort of your bed. The Vita also has a roster of over nine hundred games, chock full of action and suspense and wonder – and they all run natively on the console, so it works even when away from home.
The Vita also has augmented reality features and has a bunch of gyroscopes and accelerometers to figure out what you’re doing to it in physical space and time. As a bonus, the 3G version also allows you to play multiplayer matches with other people on the net from any location in the world.
The Wii U’s touch pad, again, won’t play games on its own. The Wii U itself doesn’t even have a lot of third-party AAA games on offer and won’t run on a 3G connection by itself. It won’t fit into your pocket either. Minus points for Nintendo again.
What does Nintendo need to do to save their console endeavor? The Wii U is an answer to a problem gamers haven’t yet needed to be addressed. I doubt many people do use the second screen functionality that Microsoft’s offering with Smart Glass. I don’t think many people bought a Shield because it was a limited initial run from Nvidia to see if they could make any money off, essentially, a reference design that they hope others will follow.
I do think that more people will buy into the Vita now thanks to the announced price drops on the memory card, the console itself and the streaming functionality. Before, it was just too expensive to justify unless you already had a PS Plus subscription. And sure, the Vita’s ability to stream game while the TV is being used for other things is a direct clone of the Wii U’s ability to do the exact same thing. But the Wii U is just not as versatile.
For Nintendo, they have come to a crossroads where they need to decide carefully what to do next. The obvious choice would be to drop their prices across the board – make the 8GB Wii U priced at around R2500 and the 32GB Premium version R3500. Drop the pricing of peripherals, offer incentives to buy games online and get Pokemon on there already.
They also need more developers on board to support the Wii U and they need to make development kits and software support more accessible. There’s a lot of things that they can do before E3 next year that can turn around their fortunes and perhaps they needed a bad initial run to realise that despite their fan base, Nintendo isn’t immune to failing at something.
All they needed to do, really is look at the PS3 as an example. Sony’s overconfidence thanks to immense market share gained from the PS1 and PS2 made them do a lot of things in haste and their refusal to listen to the public, or even acknowledge the needs of game developers cost them in the long run.